Handmade jewelry has been a sought after closet “staple” for decades. Whether it’s the only kind of jewelry you buy or something you picked up on vacation, you have at least one piece of handmade jewelry. What is it about something that’s made by hand that draws our attention? My theory is that an artisan’s personal connection and love of their craft transforms ordinary objects into jewelry masterpieces. Still, most people don’t understand the true value of handmade jewelry compared to its mass-produced counterparts. There are many reasons why handcrafted jewelry is more of an investment than pieces that are produced in mass quantities, so we thought we’d break it down for you! Below are 11 things you didn’t know about handmade jewelry.
Falling in love prompted BB Becker’s first attempt to make jewelry in the 1980s; he deconstructed and transformed found pieces into charming gifts for his future bride. Today, his work is a collaborative effort that marries BB’s lovingly-designed sterling silver pendants with his wife Josephine’s graceful handwriting.
This particularly pensive medallion bears a meditation on the bonds we share with family and friends. With one corner curled over as if turning a page on your personal story, each one is engraved with a quotation handwritten in delicate cursive that reads: “The only people who truly know your story are the ones who help you write it.” A recent conversation with BB revealed how ancient art, a meaningful sentiment, and the devoted characters who fill our personal stories inspired the creation of this writerly, wearable artwork.
When it comes to creating jewelry, Kathy Bransfield can’t stop, won’t stop. “My main drive is the fact that each piece has so many different meanings for its owner,” she says. “Whether it’s a piece with humor, a piece that can be a talisman of inner strength, a reminder of a precious friend or lover or a necklace that brings healing after a loss — this is what touches me the most and keeps my heart on fire.”
Bransfield, who works out of a studio three blocks from her home in Culver City, California — with her husband Eric and mother-in-law Rochelle — shared her off-the-chain story with us in a series of email exchanges.
When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?
As far back as I can remember! I loved to draw and do any type of craft project I could get my hands on. My dad told me I couldn’t refer to myself as an “artist” until I sold something. So when I was about 9 or 10, I would go door-to-door selling handmade Christmas tree ornaments. Later, I had the pleasure of painting alongside the ever so lovely Bob Ross (on his PBS show The Joy of Painting). I sold the oil paintings I did for $50 each — mainly to family, of course. I was 13 years old and felt I had proven dad wrong. Oddly, I still never refer to myself as an artist. Ha!
Nature is so integral to your work — and words, too. Why do you think that is?
As a kid I loved climbing trees so much that I would often sit on a specific high limb like a recliner and eat my lunch. I have always felt more connected to my own soul by being in nature. I’m also an avid scuba diver so a lot of my inspiration comes from under the sea as well as above. Seeing the shapes of the coral and the different types of grasses waving in the water is like being in a dream.
As for language, quotes have helped me through some of the most challenging times in my life. And they continue to aid me on a daily basis to keep things in perspective. They remind me about love, possibility and what’s important in life — how we should never give up on our dreams, never forget that dear loved one and, most importantly, never forget who we are.
What are your most essential tools?
By far, my vintage sets of letter stamps, my heart and my husband, Eric, who runs the business!
Is there a talisman you keep around you when you work?
Mostly, other artists’ work surrounds me in my studio — it reminds me of how much I want to strive to be more profound in my creative process. But I do display one thing I made in 1989 while living in Lake Tahoe. It hangs on the light of my bench and is made from an old pair of pants I had at the time, wooden and glass seed beads, vintage glass beads from the 1800s and amber teardrops. It’s filled with tiny treasures that have held meaning to me over my lifetime. The feather that sticks out represents my loving relationship with my husband.
Where do you typically draw inspiration for your pieces?
The obvious things make the list: hearing my children’s infectious laughter, traveling to beautiful places and engaging with great minds. I’m always trying to absorb the world around me with eyes wide open. I’ve found great quotes everywhere from a bathroom in a bar in Mexico to an inscription on a gravestone and everywhere in between. I love being moved by words every single day of my life.
Do you wear the pieces you make?
Never! I’ll be in conversation with someone that I’ve just met and they’ll ask me what I do. I tell them I make jewelry, and, immediately, they scan my empty neck and ears in confusion!
Because sayings are so important in your jewelry, is there a quote or mantra that keeps you motivated?
There are probably too many, but I will try to restrain myself:
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” —Oscar Wilde
“Wherever you go… there you are.” (That’s me running in circles!)
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” —Marianne Williamson
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever gotten on one of your pieces?
Someone came to my booth at an arts and crafts show I did about 15 years ago. She showed me her necklace that she had bought from me years prior. It looked like it had been in a grease fire, and sat on by an elephant. A third of it consisted of her hair wound through it! I immediately offered to take it and clean it. She said absolutely not — she never ever took it off and never would. The story she told me of what it meant to her had me bowled over. She had only stopped by my booth to let me know and say thank you. It helped me to see my work and its meaning for others in a whole new light.
Best yet, Eric and I were up in the wine country in Northern California once. While standing in line to buy champagne, I noticed the couple behind us were wearing the matching Missing Piece Puzzle Necklaces. I awkwardly chatted them up asking where they had bought them. Their answer? UncommonGoods!
New York City designer Anna Rabinowicz studied Industrial Design as an undergrad, went on to earn an MFA in Design and an MS in Engineering from the Product Design Program of Stanford University, and has a background in technology and medical device design. Of course, with this high-tech, industrial background, it only made sense that Anna’s next step was to start working with multimillion-year-old stones.
Anna works with agate, an exceptionally strong mineral formed from cooled lava as it changes over millions of years. The volcanic rocks look average from the outside, but crack them open, and you’ll see something extraordinary–beautiful patterns of color created by water rising and falling within the bubbles in the rock over time.
The stunning stone has been incorporated into jewelry for centuries, worn and treasured to symbolize truth and inner beauty. Now, in this age of technology, Anna uses her knowledge of modern design and production to bring the age-old talisman to a new generation. Her Agate Drop Necklace is a way to own millions of years of natural history for only $120.
If this saying isn’t quite right for you, maybe one of Mary’s other designs would be a perfect fit? Also up for voting this week: Luck is Believing You’re Lucky, Quiet Courage, and Reach for the Moon.
Next month, we’re hosting an Uncommon Jewelry Challenge, with an open call for jewelry from designers across the US. This month we’re highlighting our favorite jewelry makers. Find out more about our design challenges and learn how you can become UncommonGoods’ next favorite jewelry or accessory designer.
Artist Rhonda Wyman has always had a “do it yourself” attitude when it comes to jewelry design. The same year she graduated from Rhode Island School of Design, she married her husband, Elijah (who she calls an indie-folk singer-songwriting superhero) and they started selling Rhonda’s pieces through the independent craft scene. Although the popularity of Rhonda’s work continues to grow over the years– her Nestling Bird Necklaces being some of UncommonGoods best selling jewelry items– she still makes each piece by hand and is always finding inspiration for bold new designs.
ETA July 28, 2011: Congrats to Audi Arellano, for winning a handmade Bouquet of Roses necklace!
Next month, we’re hosting an Uncommon Jewelry Challenge, with an open call for jewelry and accessories from designers across the US. This month we’re highlighting our favorite jewelry and accessories makers. Find out more about our design challenges and learn how you can become UncommonGoods’ next favorite jewelry or accessory designer. And read on to find out how you can win one of Ellen Thurmond’s handmade necklaces.
Ellen Thurmond says she’s never been particularly “girly” or a “flowery” person, but when she was asked to create a rose necklace for UncommonGoods, she couldn’t turn down the opportunity. Instead, she thought about how to carry themes from existing designs into her new piece and looked to nature for inspiration.
These hand-cast, sterling silver bangles are made with love by archeologist-turned-artist Mary Steratore. A clever way to brighten someone’s day or show off your personal motto, we want to spread the word about these bold bangles. Our buyers are asking: Which phrase do you love most?
Terry is beaming over My Sunshine. “I want to buy this as soon as it’s available”